EXCLUSIVE: The Oscar-contending documentary Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West, directed by Ashley Avis, may provoke a sense of awe… and outrage.
The awe comes from seeing wild horses roam the range of public lands of Western states. The outrage may result from the knowledge that a federal agency, acting on behalf of cattle interests, rounds up these horses by the thousands, forcing the animals to live out their lives in pens, or worse – sent to slaughter.
The film was nominated as Best Science/Nature Documentary by the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. It won Best Documentary at the Boston Film Festival, St. Louis International Film Festival, Black Hills Films Festival, and the Sunscreen Film Festival. It won Best Cinematography at the Red Rock Film Festival, honoring the work of Director of Photography Kai Krause.
Wild Beauty is now available on Amazon, iTunes, Spectrum and other platforms. We have your first look at the film in the trailer above.
“In Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West, Avis and her crew carry audiences on a sweeping, multi-year journey of discovery, exploring not only the astonishing beauty of wild horses living free across millions of acres of public land, but debunking the Bureau of Land Management’s shocking disinformation campaign against these national treasures,” notes a description of the film. “Rather than following the federal mandate to protect the horses, the Bureau of Land Management favors multi-million dollar commercial livestock corporations that are abusing Western public lands for profit; and few American taxpayers know this is happening.”
The synopsis continues, “For five years, Avis and her small crew traversed over 20,000 miles across thirteen different states, capturing breathtaking footage of highly intelligent, closely bonded wild horses and their families. The team also documented the brutal, antiquated roundups conducted by the Bureau of Land Management, where low-flying helicopters are often used to chase the horses for miles, sometimes in extreme heat. Thousands of horses, from days-old foals (newborn horses) to heavily pregnant mares (mothers) have been killed as a result.”
Erik Molvar of the non-profit conservation group Western Watersheds Project is among the experts who appear in the film. In a statement, he said, “Wild Beauty places a crucial role in bringing broad public attention to the poorly-understood wild horse issue, and showcases the tragic beauty and desolation of western lands, and the wild horses that inhabit them, overrun by cattle and sheep.”
Molvar added, “This film exposes the hard reality that wild horses are being victimized by a system that fast-tracks public lands for commercial exploitation, caring nothing for the health of the land, while blaming wild horses for ecological damage that is actually caused by federally-permitted livestock operators.”
Author and researcher Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin, who also appears in the film, observed, “According to the traditional knowledge of many Native Nations, there was never a time when the Americas were without the presence of our horses. Indeed, their presence and the important work they do as a keystone species to keep our ecosystem healthy and balanced was and is a key factor in keeping America’s lands and waters clean, safe and fertile. The current way the BLM is choosing to exercise their power certainly does not meet the Indigenous definition of ‘sustainability’ and it does not meet the Federal government’s mandate to keep our lands healthy and productive. In hurting our horses, they are hurting our lands, countless other species whose lives depend upon the presence of our wild horses, America’s Indigenous Peoples and the greater American public for the next seven generations.”
Avis directed the 2020 film Black Beauty, starring Kate Winslet and Mackenzie Foy, for Disney+. Earlier this year, she screened Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West for members of Congress, staff, and advocates in Washington, DC.
A release about the documentary noted, “[Wild Beauty] has now become an important tool in supporting The Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act (H.R. 3656), a bill that if passed would eliminate the use of helicopters in roundups. In June of 2023, the filmmakers brought a real wild horse to greet lawmakers in Washington D.C., and teamed up with acclaimed advocacy artist Robin Bell to project footage from the film against the Department of the Interior Building at night – a display that included the words ‘I Stand With Wild Horses.’”
In 2020 Avis and her husband/producing partner Edward Winters launched nonprofit The Wild Beauty Foundation, “creating educational tools for both adults and children, and visiting schools to inspire young voices to help protect the wild world.” Avis also launched a campaign called #IStandWithWildHorses, inspiring children to write letters to their members of Congress.
Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West is written, directed, edited, and narrated by Ashley Avis, and produced by Edward Winters, Ashley Avis, and Richard Avis. Cinematography is by Kai Krause, with music by Guillaume Roussel. Executive Producers are Laurel Werner, Jeremy Bolt, Anders Liljeblad, and Larry Hummel.
Watch the trailer for Wild Beauty above.